Chinese, Dim sum
Fortune Wheel has been serving some of Long Island's best Chinese food since 1993. This is a restaurant favored by Chinese customers who, in turn, demand quality and authenticity. Americanized Chinese fare can be had here, but the kitchen specializes in the cuisine of Hong Kong, particularly seafood. One of Long Island's only destinations for weekend dim sum.
Sun-Thurs: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
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I dream of someday taking classes in Chinese. I can't help but think that if I could speak and read the language with any competency, the waitstaff at Fortune Wheel in Levittown would view me a bit differently.
They would surely offer me the "special" menu written in Chinese characters, which offers dishes other than those on the English bill of fare. And they wouldn't dream of automatically placing a fork at my place setting, as they did on two occasions. "No, thank you," I said, picking up my chopsticks. "I'm fine with these."
At the Sunday morning dim sum brunch, I watched a waiter make the rounds of the dining room bearing a tray of turnip cakes, a personal favorite. He stopped at a table to dispense some to a group cheerfully conversing in Chinese and then proceeded to pass me by. I had to get out of my seat and catch him before he could make it back to the kitchen.
Those turnip cakes, while good, were a trifle cold, not quite what I'd been craving. But char sui bao -- steamed roast pork buns -- came to the table piping hot, the soft, pale dough filled with cubed roast pork in a tangy-sweet barbecue sauce. Better still were triangular baked roast pork buns fashioned of flaky puff pastry. I found them nothing short of transporting -- so much so that I bought an extra order to take home and freeze. In contrast, pan-fried buns stuffed with a dense shrimp and vegetable mixture came across as leaden. Steamed dumplings -- some filled with shrimp, others with a mixture of pork and shrimp -- were all delicate, fresh and appealing.
I wondered whether a return dinner visit would offer another perspective, since among our group was a fluent speaker of Cantonese. What I found was that, while the quality of food was the same, no matter who did the ordering, the range of options expanded somewhat.
We started with deftly seasoned minced duck wrapped in lettuce leaves. Iceberg lettuce, much maligned these days, was ideal for this purpose, offering cool contrast to the rich, savory poultry. Then came winter melon soup, fragrant with ginger. While some at our table thought it a bit bland, I found it subtle and intriguing. A robust hot and sour soup had just the kick we were craving.
A dish called salad walnut shrimp -- jumbo deep- fried prawns served with mayonnaise sauce, broccoli and walnuts -- is something that turns up at some of the more authentic Cantonese restaurants. Here, the huge, plump crustaceans came off as lightly crisped, greaseless. The dressing had been added at the last moment, so nothing was soggy. I thought the rendition a standout. Just as satisfying was a mixed seafood casserole containing squid, shrimp, scallops and mushrooms. Although I ordered clams in black bean sauce, the restaurant had none available, so instead we were offered oysters. I thought them too large and -- even for oysters -- too mushy.
A dish that doesn't appear on the English menu but is certainly worth requesting is whole flounder done two ways -- some chunks of fish deep fried, others served in a garlicky sauce, the skin and bones batter-fried to a crunch. The smaller bones are totally edible, dissolving when bitten. Fried garlic chicken, hacked into pieces, was delicious, if fatty. I wished, though, that the garlic had been strewn with more of an even hand. One of the best items was not on the menu but available on request: pea vine shoots. They were emerald green, slightly bitter, totally compelling. And I got gratification from an old-fashioned plate of beef chow fun, unabashedly oily and very good.
Dessert was sweet red bean soup, reputed to bring good luck. Since Fortune Wheel has been pretty much unchanged for more than a decade (a renovation wouldn't be a bad idea), one can only assume that the place has all the luck it needs. And, in the kitchen, considerable skill. -- Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 11/3/06